New rental regs: City doesn’t touch non-owner-occupied rentals

At press time, 499 Airbnb rentals were listed in Charlottesville, with an average price of $161 per night. AIRBNB.COM/GOOGLE MAPS At press time, 499 Airbnb rentals were listed in Charlottesville, with an average price of $161 per night. AIRBNB.COM/GOOGLE MAPS

A list of rules and regulations are finally in place for Charlottesville homeowners who rent their houses to visitors through Airbnb and other homestay networks. At a September 8 City Council meeting, during which the ordinance was enacted by a 4-1 vote, non-owner-occupied rentals, like Stay Charlottesville, were not addressed, with the city’s promise to rule on them next year.

City Council member Kristin Szakos says when the staff decided homeowner rentals would fall under the home occupation ordinance, which says that any resident offering a business out of his home must acquire a home occupation provisional use permit, it made separating the two types of rentals simple. Ruling on owner-occupied rentals was the council’s priority because, well, it was easier.

“It would have taken a lot more doing to get [the non-owner-occupied ordinance] ready for a vote,” Szakos says. According to her, there was a “fair amount of hashing out” between the city and the people who will be affected by an ordinance on non-owner-occupied rentals.

Though city attorney Craig Brown has declared the issue of non-owner-occupied rentals unresolved, Szakos says they’re still regulated and most of them have been paying taxes.

“Stay has always stood on a strong legal ground that all its rentals are very legal,” says Stay Charlottesville’s co-founder and managing partner Travis Wilburn in an e-mail. (C-VILLE’s owner Bill Chapman is a co-founder of Stay Charlottesville, as well.) “With that being said, we look forward to working with the city to help create smart regulations that help protect neighborhoods and promote compliance amongst the users.”

Szakos says she hopes to start looking at the process of enacting an ordinance on these types of rentals in January, while council member Kathy Galvin, the only person to vote against the ordinance, says passing even the first transient lodging ordinance is troubling.

She would have preferred following short-term rental ordinance models like those in Nashville, Tennessee, Austin, Texas, and Savannah, Georgia, which routinely monitor the impacts on the neighborhoods where short-term rentals are present.

The City Planning Commission and City Council could not reach consensus on the basic principles of the homestay ordinance or the process, according to Galvin.

“We already know our current zoning ordinances need lots of review and revision,” she writes in an e-mail. “That’s why the West Main rezoning is underway, for instance.”

Two years ago, Galvin encouraged her colleagues on council to authorize staff to conduct a citywide code audit, which she says has not been finished. Some areas are 18 months behind.

“In light of all of these incomplete and ill-fitting zoning ordinances,” she wrote, “it makes little sense to me to add another incomplete ordinance to the list.”

To that, Wilburn adds, “It’s an ordinance that starts in the right direction, however, it doesn’t accomplish what we originally set out to do, which is to help protect neighborhoods and encourage compliance with people paying lodging and sales tax.”

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